The truth about...

Why are poorly marked pots such a per­sis­tent prob­lem and what can be done to solve it?

Motorboat & Yachting - - Contents -

What are th­ese pot mark­ers at­tached to?

Pots on the sea bed. They’re baited traps that lure in prey through a fun­nel that makes it dif­fi­cult to es­cape. Mostly they’re for crab and lob­ster, but also cray­fish, shrimps and cut­tle­fish.

Who’s lay­ing them?

At one end of the scale, large com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors are lay­ing them, some­times up to 100 at a time. But many are laid by lo­cal am­a­teurs for their own pur­poses.

Where are they laid?

Wher­ever the fisherman thinks is the best spot to cap­ture the prey. That might be off the beaten track, but in many in­stances they can be found di­rectly in front of a har­bour en­trance, in the mid­dle of nav­i­ga­ble chan­nels or dot­ted around a busy head­land.

So what’s the is­sue?

In a word, vis­i­bil­ity. The mark­ers can be any­thing from an old 5-litre plas­tic can to a high-vis­i­bil­ity or­ange buoy. But even in the lat­ter case, they’re of­ten so small that they get dragged un­der the sur­face dur­ing fast-flow­ing or high tides. And at low water, cheap polypropy­lene rope can some­times be float­ing sev­eral me­tres away from the ac­tual marker. In ei­ther case, if you ac­ci­den­tally run over one, there is a strong chance of get­ting the rope tan­gled around your pro­pel­lers, dis­abling the ves­sel and en­dan­ger­ing those on board. The RNLI re­ported over 295 cases of en­tan­gle­ment in one year and in 2015, a teenager nearly died when the boat he was on flipped while try­ing to avoid a poorly marked pot in Southamp­ton Water.

Are there fur­ther is­sues?

As well as en­dan­ger­ing hu­mans, there is an en­vi­ron­men­tal cost too. If a pro­pel­ler cuts the rope, the fisherman has no means of re­cov­er­ing his trap so it sits on the sea bed catch­ing fish, which then die and be­come bait for oth­ers in a un­end­ing cir­cle of death.

What would help?

Larger high-vis­i­bil­ity buoys would be hugely ben­e­fi­cial. A Dan­buoy (a buoy with a small pole and flag) would be bet­ter still. A strobe light or re­flec­tive tape would make a big dif­fer­ence at night, as would lines that sink in­stead of float. It’s worth not­ing that many re­spon­si­ble fish­er­men do mark their pots this way. Sadly, oth­ers do not.

Why don’t they mark them more clearly?

Var­i­ous rea­sons. Cost is a big one – a small buoy is less ex­pen­sive than a large one, an old 5-litre can cheaper still. But space is an­other. Many of op­er­a­tors use small open boats. The larger the marker buoy, the less they can carry. Be­yond that, some op­er­a­tors don’t wish to ‘ad­ver­tise’ their best fish­ing spots with highly vis­i­ble buoys.

Pre­sum­ably there is leg­is­la­tion cover­ing this?

Out­side of the na­tional 12-mile fish­ing limit, reg­u­la­tions are gov­erned by the EU’S strin­gent Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy. Closer to land, leg­is­la­tion be­comes a lit­tle more mud­died. The Mar­itime and Coast­guard Agency (MCA) is­sues a Mark­ing of Fish­ing Gear – Ad­vice to Fisherman and Yachts­men four-page leaflet which calls for (amongst other things) line to be weighted and flags on poles. But the word­ing is ‘should’ – it’s purely ad­vi­sory. It also says ‘lo­cal reg­u­la­tions should take prece­dence.’

So there’s no leg­is­la­tion at all for in­shore pot mark­ers?

There is leg­is­la­tion. In 2009, the In­shore Fish­eries and Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­i­ties called for more by­law pow­ers, but th­ese mostly sur­rounded iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, not vis­i­bil­ity. Closer in­shore, pot mark­ers may fall un­der the re­mit of lo­cal har­bour au­thor­i­ties, which have the power to re­move buoys laid in nav­i­ga­ble chan­nels like river en­trances.

Is any­one at­tempt­ing to tackle the prob­lem?

The Cruis­ing As­so­ci­a­tion is set­ting up a pe­ti­tion lob­by­ing the govern­ment to act on this is­sue and the Royal Yacht­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (RYA) has been push­ing for ac­tion for many years. The RYA’S cruis­ing man­ager Stu­art Carruthers told us, “If the so­lu­tion was easy we would have solved this years ago, but we’ve been thwarted at every turn.” There is cer­tainly a need for reg­u­la­tory change and over the years, the RYA has en­gaged with ev­ery­one from the MCA and De­part­ment for En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs through to the fish­er­men them­selves. Meet­ings with lo­cal fish­er­men in the So­lent, for ex­am­ple, en­gen­dered some sup­port for bet­ter-marked pots, but progress was ul­ti­mately thwarted by op­er­a­tors from out­side of the area coming into the So­lent to lay pots.

Is there any­thing us boaters can do to help?

If you do get en­tan­gled, in­form the Coast­guard and don’t en­ter the water to free your­self un­less con­di­tions are calm and you’re con­fi­dent in your abil­ity. Re­mem­ber that your crew won’t be able to come to your aid as your boat is dis­abled. Be­yond that, please re­port the event to the RYA us­ing its on­line forms. Stu­art says the big­gest ob­sta­cle to mak­ing progress is ver­i­fi­able data on the is­sue to present a ro­bust case for change.

A teenager nearly died when the boat he was on flipped while avoid­ing a poorly marked pot

Even brightly coloured mark­ers can be hard to spot when dragged be­neath the sur­face by strong tides

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